Humans learn to attach, or connect, to one another through their relationships with their parents.
Babies who have their needs met are more likely to develop secure, emotionally strong personalities. Babies who don’t have their needs met may develop anxious, avoidant, and even fearful personalities.
The type of personality you develop can determine a great deal about your life. In particular, it plays a significant role in how you find and maintain relationships.
People who develop a fearful avoidant attachment style often desire closeness. They seek intimacy from partners. However, they may be unable to achieve the deep connection they long for.
That’s because their attachment experiences have taught them to be fearful of intimacy. In some cases, their personality leads them to even reject close bonds. This can spur a cycle of rocky relationships and extreme emotional highs and lows.
Understanding fearful avoidant attachment can help you understand why you react the way you do in relationships. If you believe a loved one has this style of attachment, understanding where the instincts come from may also help you respond to them, too.
Ultimately, however, there are ways to relearn attachment so you or your loved one can have healthier relationships.
Several types of attachment styles are born out of the first years of a person’s life. These broad attachment styles include:
Secure vs. insecure
Infants who have their needs met develop secure attachments. They’re more likely to feel confident and trusting.
People who didn’t have their earliest needs met, or those who faced adversity during that time, may be less secure in themselves. They may also find forming intimate relationships difficult.
Individuals with an insecure attachment style can develop characteristics that further define why they have such a hard time forming bonds with others.
People with anxious preoccupied attachment, for example, greatly desire to feel wanted. They spend a lot of time thinking about relationships and idolize their future partners.
In turn, they require frequent reassurance and validation. That can be taxing on a partner and difficult to maintain.
Dismissive avoidant attachment
People with this style of attachment have a hard time being open with others. They often reject emotional overtures from loved ones or potential partners.
This self-isolation can ultimately lead to people feeling relationships aren’t worth the trouble.
Fearful avoidant attachment
This last attachment style occurs in people who responded to a lack of bonding by becoming fearful of future bonds. They do, however, often still want relationships.
In fact, they may actively seek them out. But when the relationship becomes too serious or the partner wants greater intimacy, the person with fearful avoidant attachment may respond by withdrawing from the relationship entirely.
Children learn attachment behaviors from an early age. In infancy, babies learn to attach to another person based on the behavior or reaction they get from their parents, caregivers, or other humans.
If the attachment is strong, the child may feel secure. This can lead to future healthy bonds.
If the attachment is challenged, the child may struggle with future relationships and attachments. They may face insecurity in the face of emotional situations.
As children grow older and enter adulthood, these emotional attachment styles can have profound effects. A person’s attachment style will play into their romantic relationships as well as professional ones and friendships.
People with fearful avoidant attachment may show signs like:
- stormy, highly emotional relationships
- conflicting feelings about relationships (both wanting a romantic relationship and being fearful of being hurt or left by a significant other)
- a tendency to seek out faults in partners or friends so they can have an excuse to leave a relationship
- resistance to commitment and intimacy
- fear or anxiety about being inadequate for a partner or relationship
- withdrawing from relationships when things get intimate or emotional
People with fearful avoidant attachment are prone to have rocky, dramatic relationships. These scenarios may help you understand how people with this style of attachment behave and why.
They may prefer casual sex
While people with fearful avoidant attachment actively want to have a relationship, their instincts work against their wishes. They resist the intimacy that’s necessary for a relationship, so casual sex may feel safer.
They may be unpredictable
People with this type of attachment style fear being abandoned. They also fear feeling trapped in a relationship. That makes them oscillate between emotional highs and lows. It may prevent a meaningful relationship in the long term. They may seem unstable or reactionary to others.
They may shut down rapidly
In the normal course of a relationship, partners get to know one another’s likes, dislikes, fears, anxieties, and more.
When a person with fearful avoidant attachment begins to feel pushed to share their emotions and intimate thoughts, they may shut off communication entirely. This is designed to protect them and their fear of being too exposed.
It’s possible to change your attachment style. Though most people develop their style from infancy, therapists and other mental health professionals can work with you to understand your style, why you react the way you do, and learn to adapt new techniques.
Talk therapy is foundational in helping people learn to cope with and eventually change from a fearful avoidant attachment style. Therapists can identify reasons the person may have adapted this style. They can then work with you to relearn attachment.
At the same time, family counseling or relationship counseling can help your loved ones learn to help you work through these changes.
A great deal of attachment style is reinforced by others’ behaviors. If you can work together, you may be able to relearn attachment more easily.
If you have fearful avoidant attachment, or if you’re in a relationship with a person who has this attachment style, these tips will help you learn to cope as you begin to better understand and reshape your relationships.
Encourage openness — but don’t push it
People with fearful avoidant attachment deeply desire intimacy. They’re also immensely terrified by it. You can encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling or what fears they sense, but don’t be aggressive. This could push them to shut down.
If your partner or loved one has this attachment style, they ultimately fear you’ll leave them or that they’ll want to leave. Be comforting and supportive. Seeing you’re sticking with them through this time of understanding and change can go a long way to building confidence.
People with insecure attachments often have low self-esteem. This can be troubling in many relationships. Give yourself space to realize some relationships are worth your effort and some aren’t.
Little by little, you can find healthier ways to communicate. An intimate, long-term relationship is possible.
By instinct, people with this type of attachment style often set boundaries, mostly invisible ones. They don’t always know where they are or why they happen, but these boundaries help them feel safe in emotional situations.
It can be helpful to others in your life for you to try to vocalize those boundaries. Tell them what makes you feel fear and what triggers your anxiety. This can help you avoid them together.
Understand your instincts
You and your family member, friend, or partner are quite different. You react in different ways to one another. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to recognize your tendencies and actively work to correct them.
If you tend to shut down when emotional conversations begin, a partner can actively push you to be open. If your partner becomes emotionally charged, you can employ ways to promote calmness.
You can hold one another accountable, and you can become better communicators. A therapist may be able to help you begin this process.
People with this type of attachment style often don’t know how they should respond in emotional situations.
A therapist can help facilitate uncomfortable conversations with yourself and with loved ones about how you or they feel. A therapist can then help you relearn how to react to one another in a healthful way.
Attachment is the fundamental way humans learn to interact and communicate with one another.
Some people have healthy, strong attachment styles. Others may have attachment styles that are less secure. This can lead to self-destructive behaviors, like avoiding relationships and fearing intimacy.
The good news is you can change your attachment style. It may take time, work, and a great deal of understanding from people in your life. But it’s possible for you to build intimate, secure relationships that fulfill you and help you feel safe.